C* is a very quiet man. I’m not sure if he’s shy, or if it’s due to his lack of confidence in English. He’s younger than me, always smiling, and has a very graceful way of moving. I’ve not spent much time with him as I’ve been concentrating on writing up another part of the project. But outside parties are interested in the work he does, and so I tell him I need to spend some time with him to write some of it up.
I tell him, through T** the volunteer coordinator, that I would like to shadow him for the next few days, see how he works, and learn more about his particular project. He smiles and beckons to me to climb onto the back of his moto. I’ve just arrived from Phnom Penh and so still have my very heavy backpack containing my clothes, toiletries, and computer, but think I’ll survive carrying it around a little longer.
At first he takes me to the CVTC (Community Vocational Training Centre), where the house I sometimes stay in is located. I realise he thinks I want to be dropped there and I try to explain in my very broken Khmer that I want to stay with him to watch and learn, meul neung rien. He understands and we jump back on his moto and spend the next few hours visiting ten different households spread throughout the village, it’s a very large village spread out over a lot of space, and it’s so lush and green.
At the first home we visit I recognise some of the children from the last time I visited the school. They stand with their parents, all staring at me, while C tells them that he would like them to go to the CVTC at 2pm the next day to collect some free school supplies for the children (I was very excited that I understood it!). They quietly nodded, still staring at me. One of the naked children being held by his mother wees onto her clothes. She ignores it, still staring. C turns to me and says I may now ask my questions. I panic a little and say again ‘meul neung rien’. He seems to understand and we get back on the bike.
We visited houses in the middle of rice fields that required balancing between the different fields to walk from the road to the house. I nearly lost my balance a few times, but the worst I suffered was some spikes from a large bush embedded in my thighs and calves. They came out easily enough, but itched for a few days.
Some of the roads were so potholed and precarious that I nearly offered to get off and walk quite a few times, but he always managed to navigate them. At some houses they happily talked with me, or just smiled. Others eyed me nervously and distrustfully.
After five months of traveling between the office, the CVTC, and The vine (the hotel where I now stay when I’m in the village), it was wonderful to get out and see a lot more of the village and the beautiful countryside I live in every second week.
*Not his real name
** Also not his real name